Review: Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

Months back, when I was looking at the holiday gaming calendar one of the titles I was looking forward to the most was Uncharted 3. I had such a great time with the last iteration (other than the ending), that I was hoping the third game would recapture that magic. Unfortunately, in most ways it feels like the magic was nowhere to be found. While Uncharted 3 isn’t the worst game you’ll play this year (that award is all but locked up by Duke Nukem), it is a strong contender for my biggest disappointment.

What was the next part of the story??

Well before Shia LaBeouf was cast, the scene with the lead refrigerator was filmed, or the screenplay was even written, the last Indiana Jones movie was going to be a dud. That’s because the MacGuffin, the crystal skull, was something that no one would ever care about. Steven Spielberg himself admitted in a recent interview that he never cared for it himself, and only went along with it because he saw George Lucas as the primary storyteller of the series. The irrefutably two best films in the series focus on MacGuffins which have a huge aura of mythology surrounding them: the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail. The two weaker films in the series focus on the wholly fictional Sankara stones and the aforementioned crystal skulls.

Since Uncharted is so inspired by Indiana Jones, I find it interesting that the series also has fallen into the trap of less interesting MacGuffins. The first game (which I admittedly never played) focused on El Dorado, a legendary city which is relatively well known. In Drake’s Deception the target is “Atlantis of the Sands,” which I had to look up online. It turns out it’s also known as Iram of the Pillars, which is well known in parts of the world, though not in Western culture.

But what’s worse than the MacGuffin is how the entire storyline is constructed. It feels like Naughty Dog bought an Indiana Jones “Mad Libs” book and used it as a template for the storyline. It doesns’t matter if the nouns are fairly unrelated, that’s what makes Mad Libs fun! Sir Francis Drake, secret societies, Bedouins, mysteriously unkillable characters, and Somalian Pirates (of course you need to have those!) round out a mostly incomprehensible story. The trademark witty repartee is still there, and still is enjoyable. So I’ll give Amy Henning credit for that. But good dialogue can’t save the story from an uninteresting MacGuffin and an unstructured plot.

I might be willing to forgive the story’s missteps if the core gameplay was strong. Unfortunately, even if you ignore the storyline, Drake’s Deception still has quite a few issues. The gunplay is inexcusably horrendous. I’m not sure what exactly happened, because I didn’t really mind the shooting in the last game. While it wasn’t the best, it was still workable for the most part. That’s not the case here. Uncharted 3 utilizes a combat philosophy where huge waves of enemies are thrown at you, and it serves nothing other than to slow the pace of the game. What’s most ridiculous is fighting armored enemies that take 2 grenades or dozens of rifle rounds to eliminate. Somewhere between the second and third Uncharted games, Nathan Drake became an army of one. I’m not sure Rambo is a hat he wears well, and it certainly isn’t one that works well in this game.

Shooting stuff isn't very fun.

Unfortunately, the terrible gunplay carries over into the multiplayer mode. I never played multiplayer in the previous title, and I have to say after trying out Uncharted 3’s multiplayer, I’m glad I didn’t waste my time. It’s jarring how amateur the multiplayer feels compared to the production values of the single player campaign. They took a shot at implementing popular features like parties, playlists, and experience, but they all just feel second rate. And even if it had the greatest modes ever, the fact that shooting a gun in the game doesn’t feel very fun means you aren’t going to have a good time in multiplayer.

What’s more is that the climbing has just become downright repetitive. The controls are as stiff as usual, and compared to the increasingly more fluid climbing in Assassin’s Creed, it just feels more and more antiquated. The first couple of times you jump and avoid a near death, it’s kind of neat. The hundredth time it happens, however, and it’s just become stale. But perhaps the worst sequence is when you play as a young Nathan Drake, and have to run across rooftops to flee your pursuers. The camera, controls, and level design conspire to create a sequence that is much more challenging than it needs to be. Although the sequence only takes perhaps five minutes to complete, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

At least the puzzles are pretty fun.

The puzzle design, at least, works fairly well. Like in the prior games, at times you will be in a room with a puzzle, and you have your trusty notebook that gives you some information on what needs to be done. While the puzzles aren’t terribly challenging, at the same time none of them approach the tedium of the tall cavern puzzle towards the latter parts of Among Thieves. So while I didn’t really get stumped by any puzzles, I did at least enjoy that a few felt a bit more innovative than the standard action/adventure puzzle fare.

But really, the true saving grace of the game is the technology. Uncharted 2 set a new bar for the Playstation 3 and “next gen” titles in general. While Uncharted 3 isn’t quite the leap in technology its predecessor was, in its own right it’s still very impressive. The new technologies this time around mostly focus on improved procedural effects. One of the early levels places you in a chateau that is set on fire. And as demonstrated at E3, the fire grows organically and looks very impressive. The way the sand grains are modeled in the desert areas also is great. I was most impressed, however, by the water physics. One level has you in a boat graveyard, and you later get on a boat yourself. The way the waves crash and the boat responds to the waves is extremely well done, and is miles ahead of anything I’ve seen in any other game. I’m sure they spent a large amount of computational time to run the water simulation, but it pays off in spades.

Feels kinda warm...

Overall, however, I couldn’t help but be disappointed by Uncharted 3. That the story falls so flat is surprising, but the core mechanics just don’t feel up to par anymore. If you haven’t played any of the previous games in the series, I’d strongly suggest playing the second game. Among Thieves is the clear high point of the series. Otherwise, unless you really want to see how they wrap up the last PS3 Uncharted game, you have better games to play.

VERDICT: SICK CANARY

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is available now on PS3. Reviews generally appear every Friday on Game Canary. This was a Thanksgiving catch-up review. The Game Canary review system is detailed here.

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3 Comments to “Review: Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception”

  1. Jeff 30 November 2011 at 9:50 pm #

    Nice review– It’s disappointing the game did not push the success of the series further. I was a fan of the story-line in the 1st game focusing on the mythical El Dorado– it’s a shame the developers have pulled away from there roots like Indiana Jones did. You saved me a play though. Thanks.

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    • Alex 6 December 2011 at 12:39 pm #

      Really you need to play this. People talk about non-existant plotholes. This game isnt pefect and neither are UC1 or 2 but this game is more different then the others. It is more darker, more focused on characters,puzzles and parkour. Its not for everyone but it is still amazing. I do not have better games to play like this guy says. I have MW3, Skyrim, Skyward Sword, and BF3 and after mostly beating those I play Uncharted 3 more then the others. Hope this helps you give it a playthrough.

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